0. In the Beginning

In 2017, my beloved mother died. I had just turned 60, and she was a vital 99-year-old who was, truth be told, tired and ready to join her life-long love (my dad) in The Great Beyond. She left me a lifetime of memories, and some money, too.

I decided I wanted to spend some of that inheritance on a long solo journey in 2018. I settled on six weeks in Snowdonia, Wales and the Outer Hebrides in Scotland. I started planning in December 2017, and departed May 1, 2018. The trip was such a roaring success (except for a kidney stone that landed me in the hospital in Manchester the night before my departure home, but that’s another story), that I decided to do a similar trip, if not in 2019, definitely 2020.

Quintessential Snowdonia Photo: Lone Tree at Llyn Padarn
Quintessential Outer Hebrides Photo: Calanish Standing Stones

Well, that was the plan. We all know what happened then. 2021 was out of the question, too. But it was a perfect year for hatching plans, bwah hahahahaha!! And since I was DENIED travel for two years, I decided on a three-month sojourn.

Although I knew that conditions would be shifting constantly, I took a chance on initial planning for a 2022 trip to the UK. I knew I wanted to do a long walk — a single established walking path in Wales, England, or Scotland. Because, unlike so many other places on Earth, the “right of way” laws (although a bit inconsistent) in the UK have allowed for many 100+ mile end-to-end walks to be established over the decades. I knew about the Hebridean Way (as I had walked and biked sections of it in 2018) and the West Highland Way (because it is pretty famous), but realized how little I really did know about the choices available.

What really kick-started my plans was watching the Netflix series “Sex Education.” I sat up and took notice immediately, and not only because the series is fabulous; I found myself asking “Where was this filmed??” I wanted to be in that place. A quick Google search told me: the Wye River Valley in South Wales. https://www.cntraveller.com/gallery/where-is-sex-education-filmed will give you some details. Then I asked Google if there is a long-distance walk there. Why, yes, said Google. The Wye Valley Way. So I got a Cicerone book.

Yes, I walked on that bridge in Tintern!

But really, the search just began there. Once I realized I wanted to do a long walk, I started checking out other “village to village” walks: Offa’s Dyke Path, Shropshire Way, Glyndŵr’s Way, Pembrokeshire Coastal Path, Anglesey Coastal Path, and perhaps a revisit to the Outer Hebrides on the Hebridean Way. Cicerone guide books (and others) obtained a fair amount of my money, and I started making my lists of which walks met my criteria.

Research materials of the funnest kind

My criteria:
1. 75-100+ miles, well-trodden and mapped.
2. No more than a few days of 10+ miles between villages/inns. I briefly flirted with the possibility of camping, but pretty quickly nixed it. That’s fun with a partner; my walk was to be solo.
3. Elevation is okay, but significant rocky scrambling or other very challenging walking conditions are not.
4. Some sort of baggage transfer from inn to inn, but NOT one that selects your accommodations or provides other services.
5. History. Ruins. Or other Very Interesting Things (views, flora/fauna, etc.).

The Wye Valley Walk was the only one that had all those features. As I investigated further, it appeared that only the southern half of the walk was totally in line with my criteria. I knew I could do 75 miles in about 10 days. The rest of the trip was delightfully up in the air, two and a half months to play with.

I was tempted to revisit the Outer Hebrides. I really, really loved the solitude and wildness of those islands. The beaches were stunning, the ancient remains of civilization fascinating. And the birds! So what were my criteria, then, for a long stay in Scotland?
1. No crowds.
2. No crowds.
3. Puffins. (I had planned a boat trip to a small isle in 2018 to do some puffin tourism, but the craft that was to take me was in disrepair. I had hoped for St. Kilda sightings, but that didn’t pan out either.)

And that search led me to the only possible answer for my month in Scotland: the Shetland Islands up at 60 degrees north.

Original plans had my partner joining me at the end of my walk in Wales, spending a little time on the Cardigan Bay coast in N. Wales, and 10 days in Edinburgh before I traveled on to Shetland and he returned home. Plans shifted, and I decided to plan the last two weeks in May in Wales at a renovated train station where I had stayed in 2018, then journey up to Shetland via the overnight Northlink Ferry after two days in Aberdeen. David would join me for my last 10 days in Shetland, then we would go to England (Sheringham, Norwich to visit a dear friend from college days, and on to London) for two weeks.

Deb fact: like my mother before me, I LOVE planning travel. To me, it is the essential component to building excitement. The research is *almost* as much fun as the experience of travel. So I launched my spreadsheet in July 2021.

The last additions to the spreadsheet!

I made my first reservations in July of 2021. I left for Cardiff, Wales on April 25, 2022.


2 responses to “0. In the Beginning”

  1. Hi Debs, I was wondering what I was going to read for the next while and you’ve supplied it 🙂 I’m really looking forward to seeing how your journey played out.
    Deborah (in France)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. No crowds, no crowds, puffins!


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